“Today is history in the making,” said Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) Board of Directors Chair Janice Tenorio. 

The Northern Marianas CUC marks a major step in the fight to lower PFAS, known as forever chemicals, in Saipan’s water. 

On Friday, they broke ground on the Isley Field and Obyan Well Granular Activated Carbon Water Filtration System Construction Project.

As KUAM News reported in November, CUC found elevated levels of PFAS in some southern villages. 

The safety standard is set through the Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, which is 70 parts per trillion. A sample collected from the Isley Reservoir on September 6 contained 108.2 parts per trillion and a sample collected on September 27 had a level of 77.8 parts per trillion.

Governor Arnold Palacious said, “They call it a momentous moment but this is a remediation moment. To some of us we were very surprised that we need to do this. Because indeed our community is in danger.”

It’s a problem caused by the use of firefighting foam for training purposes over the years. How much firefighting foam was used in the past is not known. Treating the water could take years. 

Chief Engineer and NMI Safe Drinking Water Manager Travis Spaeth said it has already contaminated the aquifer to the point of severe damage. 

But the new system, which will be linked to transmission lines connected to 19 wells, should help as they also conduct a pilot study to determine what more can be done.

“These new units I am told can treat up to a thousand gallons a minute when they are all used…the GAC will serve areas…which will improve the water quality for thousands of residents living in these areas,” said Spaeth. 

The U.S Department of Commerce and Department of Interior funded project costs $2.1 million and is expected to be completed by June.